16 August 2002

NFU steps up wages battle

THE NFU has stepped up its campaign against the latest Agricultural Wages Board settlement by writing to junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley to complain.

President Ben Gill said there was evidence to show that if the settlement was implemented the effect on British horticulture and agriculture would be severe.

"There is no doubt in my mind that such an increase in the rates will cause the financial failure of a number of our businesses."

The AWB is expected to confirm a 3% pay increase at a meeting on Aug 29. This will take the hourly rate from £4.77 to £4.91 from October.

But the board will also confirm that the casual rate is to be replaced by a starter rate, which can only be paid for 12 weeks rather than the traditional 20 weeks. The rate will be set at 10p over the national minimum wage at £4.30/hour.

The NFU estimates this will add about 11% to the wage bill of the horticultural sector and cost up to £100m over the nine months of the wages order.

Mr Gill said in his letter that the order should at least stand for 12 months as recommended by the Better Regulation Taskforce.

"The failure of the AWB to follow the recommendations of the governments own taskforce demonstrates a clear lack of co-ordination," he said. &#42